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Friday, 1 November, 2002, 10:57 GMT
Three-Mile Island cancer rates probed
Three-Mile Island
Three-Mile Island: America's worst nuclear accident
There has been no significant rise in cancer deaths among residents living near the site of America's worst nuclear accident, report scientists.

It was feared that the release of radioactive gases from the plant in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in 1979, might trigger a rise in cancer cases in subsequent decades.

However, an analysis of statistics for the following 20 years suggests this is not yet the case.

Information gathered by the Pennsylvania Department of Health from residents within a five-mile radius of the plant was compared with mortality data for the area.

Small rise

The overall number of deaths from cancer among the "exposed" population was not significantly different from the general population.

There was a small rise in the number of lymphatic and blood cancer deaths among women in the exposed group.

There are number of cancers known to be sensitive to radioactivity, such as lung, breast and some lymph cancers, as well as thyroid cancer.

The far more serious accident at Chernobyl in the Ukraine caused a large increase in the number of thyroid cancers.

However, among the Three Mile Island population, there was only one case.

It was suggested that the amount of extra radiation to which nearby residents were exposed was much less than the annual safe recommended dose for nuclear workers.

However, the long-term effects of low-level radiation exposure are still not fully understood.

'Good news'

Professor Evelyn Talbott, from the University of Pittsburgh, who carried out the study, said: "The study, which covers the normal latency period for most cancers, confirms our earlier analysis that radioactivity released during the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island does not appear to have caused an overall increase in cancer deaths among residents of that area over the follow-up period, 1979 to 1998."

However, while this is overall good news for people who may have been exposed to low levels of radioactive contamination, other analysis has spotted an upwards trend in breast cancer related to exposure on the day of the accident itself.

Professor Talbott said that the increased death rates from lymphatic and blood cancers might warrant further investigation.

The study was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

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26 Apr 01 | Europe
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